I am a huge proponent of agriculture and I will always be. Bring in my deep affection for tech, software and altruism to see why I am even more passionate about high-tech agriculture. In several of my articles, I have made mention of vertical farming. It is one specialized area of agriculture that can redefine agriculture in Zimbabwe altogether. Anyways, in this article, I shall be discussing another exciting new age agricultural approach that is already starting to take root in Zimbabwe. Its local uptake is still relatively young so you have got to hop in now and reap the benefits of early entry. It is stated that some of the crops best suited for farming using hydroponics are herbs, pepper, spinach, strawberries, and lettuce. Lettuce is actually considered to be the easiest to grow; there are more of course. Take a look at 160 Hydro farm, a business we featured that practices hydroponic farming.

What Is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a farming technique that eliminates the use of soil. The crops get to be grown in inactive or non-reactive media (e.g. perlite) only by being supplied with water-based nutrient solutions. Just the mere fact that soil is not in the picture remarkably revolutionizes agriculture as we have always known it. The vertical farming I alluded to is actually premised on hydroponic approaches.

Why Hydroponics?

Apparently, the elimination of using soil is a huge part of the ‘why’. Many people struggle to access arable land in Zimbabwe despite it being plentiful. An opportunity to grow crops without the need for soil definitely circumvents that hurdle. The need for less water (up to 90 per cent less) is also a great plus given how scarce water can be. Hydroponics also leads to high production rates, due to specialized growing environments that are not subject to natural vices. Studies have shown that crops grown this way can grow by at least 30 per cent faster than conventional farming methods. Additionally, yield rates are also higher in comparison to conventional farming.

Hydroponic Systems

The 3 basic parts of a hydroponic system are water, nutrients, and growth media. The commonly affordable growth medium is rock wool. Hydroponic systems are typically placed in closed-off areas e.g. indoors or even a greenhouse. In the event, you want to place it somewhere outside then ensure the system is not exposed to harsh natural elements. The subject of hydroponic systems is a lengthy one because there are several types. I am not going to detail every system out there though.

I just want to explore something worth mentioning i.e. the most common method. The most basic type of hydroponic system does not need electricity which makes it doable for many – the wick system. The movement of water and nutrients happens passively simply through what are called wicks. It is usually advised to start with this system to get a basic understanding.

It is important to look at this given that not everyone has access to or can afford round-the-clock electricity. Virtually any other hydroponic system runs on electricity. This means back-up generators or the use of solar energy will be essential. However, the wick system is somewhat limited in terms of how many crops you can grow. Plus it is most applicable for much smaller plants since bigger plants will not get adequate water and nutrient feeds.

Another hydroponic system that is relatively easy for a DIY set up is the deep water culture system. Here the crops grow whilst their roots are submerged in the water-based nutrient solution. This would mean the plants would have to be supported by a growth medium attached to a platform floating on the solution. The crucial element with a deep water culture system is aeration. Recirculation is eliminated in this system so you must ensure oxygen is replenished.

Cost Implications

Typically, hydroponic systems are costly to set-up. This stems from the need for specialized equipment, professional technical assistance, and power, amongst others. Probably the biggest issue with hydroponics is the cost but once you understand the inner-workings you can tweak. There are many ways to tweak the system in such a way that ultimately reduces costs. Costs vary from system to system depending on components needed. Generally, a simple hydroponic system can cost an average of US$125. For instance, a hydroponic growth kit that accommodates 72 plants can cost around US$120. Setting up a hydroponic farm with automation and highly technological components can cost at least US$10 000.

I once read of a story last year of a lady in Harare who does hydroponic farming on a 46 square metre greenhouse. The hydroponic system she uses for that cost US$900 – she bought it from South Africa. That gives you an idea of the average cost of a hydroponics system. The returns on investment are commendable because she is realizing at least US$1000 in profits every month.

By 2025 it is projected that the hydroponic industry will worth at least US$16 billion. Hydroponic sure looks like a worthwhile venture to try out. No need for soil, no need for large amounts of water – this means you can do it in your backyard. In 2021 this could be a lucrative farming venture you can start. You can check out Hydroponics Zimbabwe which specializes in offering services in this field.